Adoption Support Fund Southend-on-Sea Case Study

Adoptive families in Essex are benefiting from an innovative new group created for children aged seven to 12 who are in need of therapeutic support.

The group, which is paid for through the Adoption Support Fund, was launched in September 2015 with a weekend away for the children and their parents at an outdoor pursuits centre.

One parent who attended said: “It is easy to think that once adopters have their child everything will be fine. This event validated our feelings and experiences that parenting a child who has experienced loss and separation is not easy. Thank you Southend for acknowledging this and supporting us.”

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s adoption team had become aware of what it believed was an increasing need for therapeutic attachment support.

The team made an application to the Adoption Support Fund for the creation of a therapeutic support group for children aged seven to 12.

All children who attend the group come from a background of trauma and poor care and all have experienced loss prior to their placement for adoption.

Problems affecting their particular adoption placements included;

-          Children struggling with their own capacity to regulate emotions

-          Not knowing other families who are going through a similar journey

-          Parents not prioritising their own mental health and wellbeing

-          Lack of opportunity to learn therapeutic parenting approaches

-          Families not interacting with each other to share and learn experiences

The support group encompasses a multidisciplinary package of support including creative therapies, therapeutic parenting and short breaks.

Sessions are being delivered in-house by local authority staff trained in Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, Theraplay and Sensory Attachment Intervention, alongside input from external mental health therapists.

The club is based on the six-session Just Right State Programme. This uses The Scared Gang books to help children understand the different survival and attachment patterns of behaviour. The aim is to enable children to become more emotionally aware of themselves and of others and to give them simple tools to help them to self-regulate and achieve the ‘just right’ state.

A programme for parents is being run alongside the children’s group, allowing parents to enhance their awareness of their own engagement patterns and how they impact on their child’s emotional states. The programme will also address the underlying reasons for behaviour. It is hoped that parents will gain a deeper understanding of and become more attuned to their child’s emotional needs and instinctive responses to distress, and will build their own confidence as parents as well as learning strategies to use in their everyday lives.

The weekend away allowed families to share their experiences and make connections. It was a great opportunity for the children to develop relationships with others who shared some common ground. The youngsters took part in games that developed their confidence, self-esteem and capacity to engage with others. Activities were chosen to reflect the emotional states presented in the Scared Gang books, ensuring children and parents had the opportunity to reflect and identify what kind of physical movement either regulates or activates them individually. They were therefore predominantly physical and sought to engage participants’ sensory systems. They included team challenges, adventure courses, music and dance, getting in touch with nature and mindfulness.

Feedback received from the event was extremely positive. Parents said they benefitted from being in a supportive environment with both professionals and peers and felt they had learned strategies to use when things got difficult. They also said their children were beginning to understand how to regulate themselves.

The weekend gave them a break too and they were reminded of the importance of looking after themselves. One parent said: “It’s been a great bonding weekend, seeing smiles on our kids’ faces has been a definite winner.” And another commented: “My son has been able to experience and learn new skills in a secure and safe environment.”

One adopter believed their son was truly able to be himself and relax for the first time. They said: “It’s great to find out you’re not alone, that many of the issues you see mirrored in other children. We have made great friends and got additional strategies.”

The children also benefitted hugely from the trip with one saying: “I loved being with new friends who have all been through what I have been through.” Another said: “I got the chance to do things with my Dad that I’ve always wanted to.”

Social workers who attended saw a number of positive outcomes from the weekend. One said: “Observing one of our avoidant and withdrawn children make connections to the Scared Gang characters and voice she feels she was born scared was a real breakthrough.”

Another commented: “Creating opportunities for families to connect with other families they would not have otherwise met was fab as new friendships and support networks have been developed.”

And a third noted: “It was encouraging to see adopters have their own experiences understood and validated.”

The sessions will continue up to June next year with six in total. It is hoped that the children will develop a greater opportunity to build healthy attachments to their parents, enjoy interactions that are fun, reduce their anxieties and build a trusting relationship with their parents. It is also envisaged that the children will gain personal insights into their own survival patterns and strategies for regulating their own emotional states.

Both parents and children will also benefit from building peer relationships with others in the group. It is hoped this will evolve into further informal support networks developing and opportunities for the families to remain connected.

Southend’s adoption team manager said: “Our ambition for the therapeutic support group is to provide preventative intervention which allows families to face and process their challenges in a trusting and therapeutic environment.

“The children and parents who attended the session feel that they are not alone and feel comfortable to discuss their experiences more openly. As a direct result, our adoption service has experienced an increase in demand for post-adoption support. The therapeutic support needs that are being unveiled during the sessions may have otherwise gone undetected and escalated sometime in the future.

Following the launch session we have already identified four to five individual Adoption Support Fund applications where more intensive therapeutic therapy is required to support the families.”